Sister of Mercy Angela Reed PhD is hoping her ground-breaking book on the lives of 40 trafficked women in the Philippines sex trade will overturn widespread misconceptions about the insidious practice.
Her book, I Have a Voice: Trafficked Women in Their Own Words, is based on Sr Angela’s seven years’ work with trafficked women in the Filipino province of Cebu, shedding a new understanding on the sinister and structural oppression on which the sex trade thrives.
Following its recent launch in Melbourne, the book is expected to reshape the popular and sensationalised image of trafficking as a one-off event involving kidnapping and chains.
I Have A Voice, which is edited by Sr Angela and Marietta Latonio, and illustrated by Sr Marie Pegar SFX, tells the stories of the 40 women in their own words, revealing that, rather than being subjected to random acts of victimisation, these women were subjected to a slow process of victimisation beginning in early childhood, which made them easy prey to traffickers.
Sr Angela, a long-time member of Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH), said for too long sex trafficking has been attributed to poverty alone.
However, trafficking, she said, is more complicated and, while the cause is demand for sex services, traffickers prey on those who have myriad vulnerabilities, which can include childhood abuse, social isolation, lack of education and specific ‘local’ factors.
Tragically, for many women, sex trafficking is part of a lifelong continuum of violence that begins when they are young girls, some as young as three.
“Sex trafficking is a very complex global problem and there is no one homogenous sex trafficking experience and those trying to combat trafficking need to understand the complexities involved in order to better serve the trafficked person,” Sr Angela states.
“Once we have a better understanding of sex trafficking, we can develop better responses, allocate aid and other resources more effectively, and advocate in a more focused way.”
Sr Angela agreed that quantitative research had been done in the area of sex trafficking but believed that difficulties arose with this due to the illicit nature of the trade.
She said that there has been little research conducted involving qualitative, in-depth interviews with trafficked women, which is why she has provided the opportunity for women to tell their stories.
“It is important that we understand the nature of trafficking and its causes if we are to respond effectively,” she said.
More than two thirds of the women interviewed by Sr Angela had suffered sexual abuse from a young age. She said this challenged and even dispelled the common view that sex trafficking is a one-off event, or that young girls are snatched from their villages and safe communities and sold, or forced into sex work.
“It is more sinister than that,” she reveals. “For the majority of the women in my study, sex trafficking was part of a life journey that began with their experiences as children through to being trafficked as adolescents.”
To order a copy of the book, go to http://www.ourcommunity.com.au/ihaveavoice or contact Our Community in Melbourne on 03 9320 6800.